Restoring damaged works of art is a labor of love for this Kirkland-based conservator.

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Emily Pellichero

What do you do? I am a paper conservator in a private studio [in Kirkland]. I take damaged works of art and I repair and restore them to bring them back to their original splendor. My work covers all types of paper objects and archival materials, including prints, drawings, watercolors, wallpaper, maps, documents and three-dimensional paper objects.

How did you get started in that field? I was studying art history in Italy, and while visiting the Baptistery in Florence, I saw a crew in lab coats cleaning and replacing tiny tesserae [tiles] high up on the scaffolding. I asked a few questions and I was hooked; it was the perfect fit for my love of art, science and all things meticulous. I spent the next seven years training and studying at a handful of wonderful museums, libraries and universities in Europe and North America.

What’s a typical day like? Each day is different and the challenge varies with each piece. Working so closely with an object you become an expert in the artist and the medium, you learn context through the materials and you become familiar with each line or brushstroke. On any given day, I could be researching a 17th-century artist, removing tape from an overused map, repairing tears on an intaglio print or spending hours inpainting a watercolor with a super-tiny, three-hair brush.

What’s the best part of the work? When I travel for work, I get to see places in a totally fresh way. When you go to museums you can’t touch anything, you are expected to observe and stand back. I love being able to handle objects and take care of them in their own environment.

I was recently in Bhutan for work, which was absolutely amazing; I was able to connect with people and see the country through their beautiful artwork in a way that I could only do with conservation.

What surprises people about what you do? Some of the treatments I perform really surprise people. I’ve seen many worried faces when I describe how I plan to wash their print or watercolor. Chemistry is at the heart of conservation, and when soluble deterioration is rendering the paper acidic and brittle, we can turn to aqueous cleaning methods. The transformation always convinces people. Most museums and libraries are familiar with conservation, but many private clients come to me thinking their damaged piece is a lost cause. It is wonderful to show before and after results, knowing that the paper has new life in it.

If you have any family heirlooms that you know are in trouble, look me up and come see me!

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